Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972, Kenji Misumi)

The first of a 6 film series about a samurai turned assassin and his son that he pushes along in a cart as he hunts down the clan that framed him for treason and murdered his wife is a pretty solid first film in what promises to be an epic series.

Sword of Vengeance in a sense sets up the world that the following films will take place in. Given that this is the first film in the series most of the mandatory story has to be set up and told before the series and action really take off. It's because of this that the first half hour or so is about the betrayal of Ogami Itto (soon to be know as the assassin "Lone Wolf and Cub"), the murder of his wife, his decision to leave his samurai code of honor and work as an assassin, and his decision to travel with his child on this quest for vengeance. Once all of that is out of the way the film really begins to churn out the goods.

After everything is laid out the film follows Ogami Itto and his son on their first mission as assassins for hire. A chamberlain hires Itto to go and kill a rival and his henchmen who are a threat to the chamberlain's lord who are staying at a hot springs spa and as Itto accepts the job you just have to wait it out until the inevitable final fight scene takes place where you know things will get crazy...oh...and crazy it does get

The charm of Lone Wolf and Cub, and what really makes it so much fun, is that when the fight scenes come up (and they come up frequently) the film doesn't hold back with its "holy shit!" type of moments. Heads get decapitated, limbs fly off left and right, and when Itto delivers a fatal blow the blood sprays out his victims in an exaggerated anime kind of way (think Kill Bill). So, when you have heads, arms, legs, and blood flying everywhere mixed together with some very impressive fight choreography you are guaranteed to be into every single fight scene while saying "oh!" or "fuck!" every couple of seconds. So, basically, awesome samurai film has awesome samurai fight scenes. Shocking, right?

Although every fight is top notch stuff I am not the kind of person who is easily amused by a good fight scene that he decides to shrug off any of the films flaws. I wish I could turn a blind eye towards what bothered me in Sword of Vengeance and just decide to focus on how awesome the fight scenes were but really there is one plot development towards the end of the film that just left me scratching my head towards why it was included.

When Itto is staying at the hot springs spa and waiting for the right moment to kill everyone a prostitute is introduced into the mix that, in my opinion, only serves to make the film have an extra couple of minutes of exploitation "goodness"" but somehow the film tries to pull if off as another way for the film to show you how great Itto's moral code is. Itto is forced to have sex with her in front of group of people in order to save her life and Itto being the noble man that he is accepts the task and so begins one of the most unnecessary sex scenes I have seen in awhile. What is even more unnecessary is how she actually becomes a main character for the final act of the film while adding almost absolutely nothing to the film (except for nudity).

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance is a very solid and often times entertaining "set up film" that due to its obligation to set up everything for the first hour or so becomes a bit of an annoying task that you know you have to get through in order to fully enjoy the the greatness that lies ahead. When everything is out of the way the film delivers on what it promises and also delivers on what the first film of a series should, which is the hint of even bigger and better things in the following films


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